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Morning tip: It's safe to say Wizards have turned corner

Morning tip: It's safe to say Wizards have turned corner

The start to the 2016-17 season couldn't have been worse. Losing eight of 10 is never good, but the Wizards' biggest free-agent acquistion sat after the biggest free-agent fish in the market they'd targeted for two years wouldn't even consent to a meeting.

It's easy to pile on and declare that it's over -- even with 72 games left -- and start the bonfire. But that's not the behavior of a smart team if it truly believes in the pieces it has in place to succeed. They weather the storm. 

There were musings such as the case for trading John Wall, a podcast from Bill Simmons about the franchise needing to go into tank mode and a declaration that the Wizards are dead

After a ripping of the Atlanta Hawks 112-86 on their own floor Friday to improve to 26-20, how ridiculous does all of that sound in hindsight?  They've won 14 in a row at Verizon Center, have the season series edge over the Hawks (2-1), Boston Celtics (2-1), Charlotte Hornets (2-0), Chicago Bulls (2-1), New York Knicks (2-0), have clinched it with the Milwaukee Bucks (3-1) and are even with the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers (1-1).

Don't be mistaken, players wondered out loud what was happening during those early-season fails, too, especially after losing Nov. 16 at the Philadelphia 76ers who didn't have Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jahlil Okafor playing on a minutes restriction.

But when a team is down, espeically this one with their recent history of ups and downs, proclaiming they're finished is the predictable next step. The easiest job in sports is that of an armchair front office expert. Like playing online poker with fake currency, there's no real pressure involved if you bust out.

Wall isn't going anywhere while he's still under contract. To suggest the Wizards trade him is absurd because he makes all of those around him better. Don't give Bradley Beal that $128 million extension as opposed to what? Letting a 23-year-old leave for nothing in return? So how would that improve the team? Replace him with Dwyane Wade who was the next best player on the market at his position? Exactly how is Wade, who can't shoot threes and is on his last legs at 35, working out in Chicago?

After the Wizards whiffed on Kevin Durant who chose to join an already stacked team in the Golden State Warriors, Ian Mahinmi's signing still came as a surprise. That the backup center only has played 14 minutes this season, his lack of availability been a major disappointment. The next biggest acqusition, Andrew Nicholson, has been reduced to playing mostly garbage minutes like he did in Atlanta. 

Pending the next tests on Mahinmi, he could be back after All-Star break to fortify the second unit behind Marcin Gortat which would make the Wizards so much better defensively. Trey Burke and Jason Smith are playing light years better. Tomas Satoransky, a 2012 draft pick in his first season, is back in the rotation and providing valuable time on the floor with Burke. And Kelly Oubre, who the Wizards traded up to draft in 2015, isn't a bust no more than Otto Porter who needed time to develop. 

[RELATED: Wizards' Bradley Beal an NBA All-Star snub]

Markieff Morris, who was acquired for what turned into a No. 13 pick in a weak 2016 draft for an average of $8 million a year through 2019, is playing the best basketball of his career. Gortat is a double-double machine who is playing his best since being acquired by the Wizards in a 2013 trade. The Wizards' starting five is as strong as any in the East outside of the Cleveland Cavaliers but a Mirza Teletovic over Nicholson or a Courtney Lee over Marcus Thornton would be worth a few more wins.

They key to what has been working is Wall and Beal and how first-year coach Scott Brooks has molded them into an elite backcourt once again. A lot of veterans were allowed to walk, in part, because president Ernie Grunfeld wanted to create a different chemistry. It became a matter of did Wall and Beal lack the leadership quality, or were they not allowed to put their imprint on the team as they saw fit? They have that freedom and confidence to do so and are having career-best seasons as a result. 

Supposedly, Brooks was an isolation coach after his time in Oklahoma City. There's no isolation ball in D.C. He's gone away from predictable high pick-and-roll between Wall and Gortat and has opted for more motion, cross-screening, area and flare screening to space the floor for shooters. That's why Porter is the NBA's leader in three-point percentage. And it's why Oubre is flourishing at catch-and-shoot situations. 

Brooks has convinced Porter not to always cut to keep the lane open for Wall and Beal to attack. He has used Porter more as a "stretch" option with Oubre as the small forward. He has had Burke and Satoransky share ball-handling duties with the second unit to take the pressure off of them both and they've responded. He has put Morris on the floor to start the second and fourth quarters to give it stability and so he can take advantage of backups at his position. He has put the 6-7 Oubre, with his 7-2 wingspan, on point guards.

Brooks tried to make Nicholson and Thornton work in his rotations, perhaps more than he should've, then didn't hesitate in changing gears unlike previous coach Randy Wittman. His five-year deal he signed for $35 million is proving to be a bargain. 

Where this all ends up is anyone's guess. And that's what it really is -- guesswork -- with some of it being more educated than others. 

No matter the parts, Brooks has cultivated a unit that plays hard, intelligently and he takes advantage of everyone's strengths.

This is no declaration that the season is a success because there are a lot of games left and they're only one significant injury away from trending in the other other direction. Finally, however, it can be said the Wizards have an identity, an attitude (see the "funeral game" vs. Boston), can handle pressure, prosperity and talk of a top four seed in the East now is a worthwhile discussion.

So much for trading the face of the franchise or tanking. An enormous responsibility would come with such a decision -- the opposite of a hot take.

[RELATED: Wizards outline plan for Mahinmi, aren't looking to add big man]

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The case for Davis Bertans to make the NBA's three-point contest

The case for Davis Bertans to make the NBA's three-point contest

Since acquiring Davis Bertans from the Spurs in exchange for the rights to Aaron White, the Wizards have unlocked the sharpshooter's full offensive potential. 

In San Antonio, Bertans was known more as a spot-up, floor-stretching power forward. Now? He's one of the most feared snipers in the NBA with his ability to come off screens, get his shot off quickly and drill threes from just about anywhere on the court. 

Bertans should without a doubt be invited to compete in the NBA's three-point contest at All-Star weekend. Jordan McRae is leading the campaign charge and the Wizards recently started a campaign to get him there as well. 

So as we await word on whether Bertans will be invited or not, let's lay out his claim as one of the most prolific three-point shooters in the league and how he stacks up against everyone else. 

By the numbers

Bertans is shooting 42.4 percent on 8.7 three-point attempts per game, which is absurd efficiency at that volume. 

Of the 14 players that take at least eight threes per game, nobody is shooting at a higher clip than Bertans.

He's also second in the league in three-point makes per game (3.7), trailing only James Harden. For players who make at least three triples per game, Bertans has the third-highest shooting percentage on his looks. 

If that's not enough, Bertans leads the NBA in catch-and-shoot makes from deep this season (3.2). The three-point contest closer resembles catch-and-shoot opportunities rather than shooting threes off the dribble. If Bertans were to compete in such a setting, he'd feel right at home. 

Supreme confidence

Confidence is one of the most crucial traits of a great shooter, and Bertans has no shortage of self-assurance.

He could be 0-for-7 from three and 2-of-10 from the field, but that wouldn't stop Bertans from taking a 30-footer with the game on the line. 

Speaking of 30-footers, Bertans is more than comfortable launching shots from several feet beyond the three-point line. If he ends up shooting in the three-point contest, I wouldn't be surprised if he wanted to move the ball racks back a few feet just for kicks. 

After a game in which he made six threes against the Hornets, Bertans was asked if there was a three he felt was too deep for him to take. His response?

"I haven't found that yet."

The competition

Last year there were 10 participants in the three-point contest at All-Star weekend. With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant hurt this season, you have arguably the three best snipers in the NBA all sidelined with serious injuries. 

Without those three, I'm not sure there are five shooters in the league better than Bertans, let alone 10. 

As of now, there have been three reported invites to the contest. Luka Doncic (32.7 3P%), Trae Young (37.3) and Duncan Robinson (42.9), though it's not yet clear if those players will accept. 

Bertans is in line for a nice payday this summer based on his play so far this year, but his recognition around the league shouldn't stop there. 

All you need to do is watch a Wizards game when Bertans hits a few threes in a row and look at how the defense reacts to him. They abandon their entire gameplan to run Bertans off the three-point line. 

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Wizards' three-point defense continues to stand out as a major weakness

Wizards' three-point defense continues to stand out as a major weakness

With the 30th-ranked defense in the NBA, the Wizards have more than one issue on that end of the floor, but lately what has stood out most is a familiar problem.

Three-point defense remains a major weakness for the Wizards, who have had trouble guarding the perimeter going back to last season. It killed them in their overtime loss to the Heat on Wednesday night, as Miami made 17 threes and shot 51.5 percent on their 33 attempts. 

We can focus on Bradley Beal's late-game misses, or the free throw shot disparity. But the biggest reason the Wizards lost to the Heat was their inability to prevent three-point shots.

Even the guys everyone knows can shoot found little resistance. Tyler Herro made 7-of-9 from long range, Duncan Robinson hit 4-of-7 and Kelly Olynyk went 2-for-3.

If your goal is to stop the Heat, who are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA, from making them, you circle those names at the top of the scouting report. The Wizards knew it was coming and still couldn't stop it.

This came two games after the Toronto Raptors made 22 threes against the Wizards, the third-most ever allowed in their franchise history. And on the season, the Wizards currently allow the ninth-highest three-point percentage (36.9) and the sixth-most threes made (12.3) on average.

Last season it was also an issue, as they gave up the fifth-highest three-point percentage (34.1). Much of their personnel is different, yet the same problems persist.

The Wizards may not be able to do much about it this season, barring major changes at the trade deadline. They are only going to be so good at stopping threes with Isaiah Thomas as their starting point guard. Backup Ish Smith, though much more mobile than Thomas, is also at a size disadvantage.

They are simply going to be limited by the way their roster is constructed. In the front office's defense, they had to change a lot last offseason and couldn't fix it all. They made the Wizards younger, more financially flexible and a more efficient offensive team. But they didn't do much to fix the defense and, in fact, it has gotten worse by almost every measure.

Defense will clearly be a major priority going into this summer, if their current pace continues. There will, however, be no easy fix for their three-point defense.

They will need to get a more defensive-minded point guard, assuming Thomas doesn't come back. Maybe John Wall can help their cause when he returns. He is a former All-Defensive selection with the size and length to be a good three-point defender. But he hasn't exactly been consistent in that department throughout his career.

These days, three-point defense is about much more than guards. Teams can roll out lineups with five players who can stretch the floor. The Wizards will need to add big men to their rotation who are nimble enough to man the perimeter.

Perhaps the best way the Wizards can plug some holes in their three-point defense is by their young forwards learning how to be more disruptive. Their two most recent first round picks, Troy Brown Jr. and Rui Hachimura, each have plus wingspans and have flashed solid defensive instincts. The Wizards need them to be able to step out and alter outside shots.

It will be a challenge for general manager Tommy Sheppard and the Wizards front office as they go into this summer trying to take the roster to another level. When healthy, the team has shown they can score. But they don't play defense anywhere close to good enough to be a winning team.

What they have to do is figure out a way to infuse the team with capable defenders without sacrificing much in the way of their offense. They won't be able to cure all of their ills overnight, but they could start on the perimeter.

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